I am coming to you in print only again this evening…although the bulk of my cold has passed, my voice is still hoarse and 30 minutes of non-stop talking is not what the doctor ordered. At any rate, tonight I am discussing a troubling trend here in my home state of Florida, but a trend that is also happening in other municipalities across the country: the legal banning of pit bull, pit bull mix dogs, and other select breeds. The aim of such legislation is to stem the tide of dog violence in the form of cruel dog fighting for sport, as well as the potential harm these dogs can inflict on people when trained as attack dogs. The thought process behind such legislation is that these dogs were bred for the sole purpose of aggression, and that they present a danger to the community. Other communities have taken breed bans even further to include Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and other breeds.
While it is true that these and some other breeds of dog are absolutely capable of inflicting serious harm to other animals and people, especially to small children, banning them does not address the real problem: the cruel, sadistic human element that abuses and torments these dogs to fight or attack. It also unfairly targets thousands of these dogs who are gentle, loved members of many families.
While it is true that some individual dogs may have deep seeded aggression issues that may result from unethical breeding, poor socialization or other factors, for the most part, a dog’s temperament is determined by how it is treated by the people who raise it. If a dog is loved, nurtured, and well socialized from a young age, it is likely that dog will be a gentle dog, regardless of breed. Case in point, the vast majority of pit bulls that I see in clinical practice enter the exam room wagging their tails and licking us from head to toe. Many regularly stay as welcomed guests in our boarding kennel and spend time with their owners frequenting the dog beach to play with other dogs. These dogs are no more a threat to society than my Labrador Retriever and Border Collie are. Should families be forced to give up these gentle furry family members because others are turned dangerous by abuse and torment at the hands of people who are intent on making them that way?
The truth is, with enough abuse and torment, any breed of dog can be turned dangerous and/or be trained to fight. Pit Bulls just happen to be the ones most commonly chosen because of their musculature, notariety and the strength of their bite. But what happens when law makers are successful in instituting a ban? Are they so deluded that they think this will stop the problem?
First of all, keeping law abiding citizens from owning Pit Bulls and other “dangerous” breeds of dog that seek them for companionship, is not likely to keep criminals from owning them for the purposes of guarding their meth labs and crack houses, or for fighting them for sport. Criminals by their nature do not refrain from owning or doing something simply because it is against the law to do so.
But let us say that hypothetically that criminals were deterred from owning Pit Bulls. Would this really keep us all safer from dog violence? Of course it would not. If Pit Bulls were successfully banned, then they would use American Bulldogs. If American Bulldogs were banned, they would use Bandogs. If Bandogs were banned, they would use Boerboels. If Boerboels were banned, they would use any one of many variations of Mastiff that have historically been used as guard or fighting dogs (Presa Canario, Fila Brasiliaro, Japanese Tosa Inu, etc.)…and so on.
If a vicious beast is what a criminal or sadistic person endeavors to possess, then he will stop at nothing to attain one to turn to his sinister purposes, no matter how many breeds of dog get banned. Meanwhile, otherwise gentle dogs and the families that love them as a vital part of their family dynamic will pay the price for the cruelty of others. It simply is not fair, and it will in the end do nothing to quell dog related violence.
A much better idea would be to make penalties for pit fighting far more severe than they currently are in most states and on a federal level, while making dog owners criminally accountable for the actions of their dogs. This brings me to another point that I believe should also be the law of the land: in order to own any dog (and cat for that matter), it should be mandatory to have that pet micro chipped. Therefore, anything that occurs with the dog throughout the course of its life, whether it is abused, abandoned, is sold for pit fighting, or inflicts injury on a person, somebody will and should be held accountable.
Banning dog breeds is not the answer to reducing dog violence. All that will serve to do accomplish is hurting responsibly dogs owners, their dogs, and their families. Holding the people who turn dogs into monsters for their own sinister purposes criminally accountable for the actions of their dogs is the only effective way to prevent dog violence.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL and founder/CEO of Web-DVM.net.
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